Supporting Players' Stories in a Visual Novel (Week 12 Update)
We are so excited to be submitting our demo build for the Steam Summer Festival this Friday. Over the last week, we worked with our community to bring their stories to life in our game and I will dive into how we are enabling players to create their stories in our game. We have some new art for our environments and characters to share with you.
Showcase the game
Apply to GameScape (Deadline: March 31st, 2020)
- We submitted for this at the end of March. We expected to hear back during April, but we are currently in a holding pattern waiting to hear whether Artscape is still happening.
- Steam Summer Festival (Demo Deadline: May 15th, 2020 (THIS FRIDAY), Event: June 9th to June 15th)
- We submitted our application for RavenHeart Hospital and are working towards polishing up our demo build to submit for the festival. We are excited for this event as it can allow us to share our vision of the game with more players and gives us a chance to connect with more fans.
- More info here: https://partner.steamgames.com/doc/marketing/steamgamefestival
A rising concern with this goal is the COVID-19 outbreak and its consequences for large group gatherings and school closures. We are keeping a close eye on this developing situation and understand if some events end up postponing or canceling as a result.
With submitting to Steam, we plan of releasing the third playtest of the demo! If you are a newsletter subscriber, you will receive a notification for when you can play. If you are not a newsletter subscriber, you can still join and be a part of the demo!
Support User Generated Content
We have recently had some players get interested in coming up with their characters and narratives. Since we first made our scripting language, we saw the potential to allow players to be able to craft new stories and we want to explore what it means to let players create and share these stories with eachother. More of this below.
Story Packs / User-Generated Content
Last week, I was working while streaming my work on our Discord server. This Discord server is dedicated to give a place for our game team and players interested in the game somewhere to talk and share more frequent, smaller updates about the game. With User Generated Content as one of our game's goal, I was streaming implementing the "Story Pack" system.
A Story Pack in our game is a package of contents to help tell stories. During the stream, I worked with a user CraftmasterMatt to get some stories he was writing into a Story Pack that the game could read in. The video below shows the process for selecting a Story Pack and playing it in the game.
What I think is cool about the Story Pack system is that it allows players to create their own extensions to the game, be it new scripts, new characters, new backgrounds, new sound effects and even new surgery scenes.
The Story Pack scripts can reference assets that exist in the base game and are able to supplement their own assets in as they see fit.
Story Pack Folder Structure
The image to the left is how the story pack used in the video is laid out.
Backgrounds Folder: This would contain new images to be used for the environments of the game. Background image names are what the Scripts can call on to display them. For example, a script referencing BG: Hospital_Hallway would be requesting the Backgrounds/Hospital_Hallway.png image.
Characters Named Folder (Characters/ZACHARI): This folder contains a small configuration file and images associated with a character and their various expressions. The configuration file helps to display the character as well as map character expressions to character images. Side note, CraftmasterMatt would love to find an artist to help develop the look of his character :D
Scripts Named Folder (Scripts/ZACHARI): This folder contains episode scripts for a specific character, starting with Episode_001.txt. A script is defined as any number of cutscenes or operation scenes combined together and a script can reference characters, backgrounds, SFX and surgery scenes found in our game or in the Story Pack
Surgeries Folder: For the very adventurous story pack creator, we now support custom surgery scenes. In the future, we will look into tooling to help author these scenes.
I want to thank CraftmasterMatt again for helping us test out the Story Pack workflow and I am excited to see what other stories players try to add to the game!
This is the first scene we had done because of its importance in the game and we were immediately happy with the results. This scene has only required few minor alterations since its inception to help clarify the space. The movable rig of medical machines stands out in the room and give a unique feeling over traditional operating rooms that were references. Sometimes operating rooms can look alien or scary but there is a warmth and security that this room give me.
The Hallway / Patient's Room
The time of day and lighting really bring out a lot in this scene. During the iterations, we were curious about viewing more into the patient's room through the doorway and then past the patient's room into the outside to see some nature. With the wall-mounted table, sliding doors and strip lighting in the patient's room, we got to push the "futurism" of the scene more.
The glass wall, spacing between the tables, and ceiling height give this scene a great open feel. As with the Hallway scene, we didn't want the hospital to feel boxed-in and we've found that using large glass windows and views into the outside help add depth and more connection to setting.
I'm glad that we could use the outside view in this room to showcase some architecture that could be seen in Baltimore and with the next scenes, we are looking to explore more Charm City inspired settings.
A fun quote during this scene's development was "currently blocking out the values and did the clouds. can't tell whether they're chill, or if it looks like we're traveling light speed?" Maybe this is world's first flying hospital.
Bar / Restaurant
We plan to use this scene for social gatherings and interactions, but its first appearance in the upcoming demo will be strictly work-related.
Hospital Exterior / Emergency Entrance
We've wanted to explore the external appearance of the hospital after working on scenes based inside of it. We learned from developing the inside of the building that glass will play a central focus in the design of the building and the outside of the building should showcase that. The red vehicle sketch is Dante's ambulance, The Inferno.
With the game's setting being set in a "futuristic" Baltimore setting, Michelle pulled in some downtown real street views as reference. Dante's story will force us out of the hospital frequently so that gives us an opportunity to highlight the city.
Character Art Style Pivot
As part of the pivot I talked about two weeks ago, we decided that we wanted to explore a different art style for our characters. The main reason for this shift is because we see the project moving closer to typical visual novel / dating simulation games and, with the higher focus on individual characters, we think characters should be more appealing. Zac Bolubasz (@_sneb_) is continuing to evolve the characters and rework them to a new art style.
One of the three playable doctors. One of best quotes this week was "I can't get over how much of a narc [they] looked"
First character with flat colors to come out in the new character art style. Most of the character's attire is the same with the biggest changes occurring to the facial structure, hair style and neck size.
Dante, one of the two characters with their own storylines for the demo. Their stories will focus on handling emergency situations and you will assist them in caring and triaging multiple patients
This was a total redesign of the character though some details still carried over between the versions: the face bandage, scars, and toothpick. I love the sharp color palette with all of the characters and heightened confidence of the new Dante.
One of the playable doctors. We want all of the playable doctors to have a similar look, with the popped collar, stethoscope, hand-in-pocket and tablet.
The primary yellow colors pop out well in the character's design. Zac had been working to get the character's hair style down and I think the result speaks for itself.
We are going to revisit the designs for Big Tex, Annabel and another playable Protagonist character this week.
Surgery Tools / Gunk Art
We plan to get some better art in the game for the various surgery tools and wound afflictions that appear on patients' bodies. This work will happen after the demo build submission.
Demo Scripts Reading
JT has new drafts for the Dante and Big Tex episodes. We did a table reading of the Dante episode to help clean up the script and we will do a table reading for the Big Tex episode to improve that as well.
JT has been brainstorming new character concepts and specialties to fill out the rooster of characters that you can interact with. These new characters would have their own episodes and certain types of operations that pertain to their character.
The UI for the title screen and surgery scenes needs some love. The user experience is not ideal right now with players entering the game and being asked to start the game as well as choose a character to play. We have new settings for text scrolling speed that should live in their own settings window instead of on the title screen. And the surgery scene HUD is starting to display a lot of different information in various different styles. During this upcoming week, I plan to pin the UI down more and make it fit the game better.
We also have a new character "affection" mechanic that is not yet properly reflected in the UI. There is no way to see how much affection you have gained with a character or when you gain affection from a character.
With some of the features that happened, such as the surgery scene refactor and character-centric episode loading, I have introduced some bugs into the game. This next well, I will be cleaning these up to get the game playable in the ideal state we want to submit to Steam.
I hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our studio's status update. Each week, we try to bring new and interesting updates about how our studio and game are developing that we think people will like and learn from.
If you have any questions, comments, feedback for me, you can email me, Zappy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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